Bahrām V Gōr بهرام گور

The article below on Bahrām V Gōr بهرام گور was written by O. Klíma for the Encyclopedia Iranica in December 15, 1988 and was last updated in August 24, 2011. This article is available in the print volumes of the Encyclopedia Iranica (Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 514-522).

Kindly note that the article below contains pictures and captions that do not appear in the Encyclopedia Iranica version.


Bahrām V Gōr, son and successor of Yazdegerd I, reigned from 420 to 438. His mother was said to have been Šōšanduxt, a daughter of the Jewish exilarch (Markwart, Provincial Capitals, par. 74). As a youth he was brought up at the court of the Lakhmid kings of Ḥīra, Noʿmān and his son Monḏer (he had probably been banished thither upon some disagreement with his father, see Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 90 n. 2). Since the death of Šāpūr II in 379, nobles and priests had increased their prestige and power at the expense of central authority, electing, deposing and killing kings (among them Yazdegerd I) at will; and they now intended to exclude Yazdegerd’s sons from the succession (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 253ff.). The eldest son, Šāpūr, governor of Persarmenia, hurried to Ctesiphon to seize the throne but was murdered by the nobles, who elected a prince of Sasanian descent, Ḵosrow by name, as king (Nöldeke, op. cit., p. 91, n. 4).

H-Inv.S-252Bahrām V Gōr بهرام گور  on a camel firing his missiles at wild game; he is accompanied by the diminutive figure of Azadeh (Source: Hermitage Museum – Inv.S-252). Firdowsi’s (940-1020) post-Islamic epic of the Shahname Twritten in the late 10th to the early 11 centuries, narrates a story of the Sasanian king Bahram V (r. 420–38), who was challenged by his favorite female musician, Azadeh, to engage in fantastic feats of archery. This theme remained unknown in the few Sassanian works that survived the Arabo-Islamic invasions of the 7th century CE, however the discovery metalworks such as the above helped bring this aspect of the Sassanian martial tradition to light. There is another Sassanian metalwork plate (similar to the above sample at Hermitage) housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Bahrām asked and received military assistance from Monḏer, and marched on the capital. Alarmed, the nobles negotiated with him and accepted his claim after exacting from him the promise that he would right his father’s misrule. According to the Persian tradition celebrated in the Šāh-nāma (Moscow, VII, pp. 296-303) and other Sasanian-based sources, Bahrām opted for an ordeal, suggesting that the royal crown and garb be placed between two lions, and whoever could retrieve them by killing the beasts should be acknowledged as the divinely favored king; and while Ḵosrow withdrew, Bahrām underwent the ordeal and won the throne. He left the task of administration to his father’s officials, especially to Mihr Narseh, grand minister (wuzurg framadār) of the empire. He also remitted taxes and public debts at festive occasions, promoted musicians to higher rank and brought thousands of Indian minstrels (lūrīs) into Iran to amuse his subjects, and he himself indulged in pleasure-loving activities, particularly hunting (his memorable shooting of a wonderful onager, gōr, is said to have given origin to his nickname Gōr “Onager [hunter]”). These measures made Bahrām one of the most popular kings in Iranian history.

Folio_from_a_Khamsa-cPortrayal of a Khamseh (quintet) by the Persian poetry of  Nizami (1141-1209) entitled “Bahram and the Indian princess in the black pavilion (Source: Public Domain); the artwork is dated to the mid 1500s, during the reign of the Safavids (1501-1722).

Right after his accession, he proved himself in battle against the White Huns (the Hephthalites) who had invaded eastern Iran. Leaving his brother Narseh as regent, Bahrām took the road from Nisa via Marv to Kušmēhan, where he fell upon the enemy, won a resounding victory, and obtained precious booty from which he made rich offerings to the fire temple of Ādur Gušnasp. On his return, he appointed Narseh governor of Khorasan. However, on the western front, Bahrām was less successful. Many Armenian Christians had appealed or defected to the Romans, and the refusal to surrender them resulted in open hostility in 421. Mihr Narseh led the Persian forces but engagements were indecisive, and finally a treaty was signed giving freedom of religion to the Christians in Iran and Zoroastrians in the Byzantine empire, and obliging the Romans to contribute financially to the defense of the Caucasus passes against the Huns. Bahrām then deposed the Armenian king, Artašeš (Ardašīr), son of Bahrāmšāpūr (Vrāmšapuh), and replaced him with a margrave (marzbān).

BahramVCoinHistoryofIranA gold coin depicting Bahrām V Gōr بهرام گور; note the fire temple on the reverse of that coin (Source: Public Domain).

Bahrām V is exceedingly popular in Iranian literature and art. His coins show him as wearing a crown with three-step crenellations and a large crescent of the moon; they also introduce certain novelties such as the appearance of the crowned king’s bust within the flames of the fire altar on the reverse (R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics, Brunswick, 1971, p. 49, pl. 9 nos. 153-58). No monument has survived of Bahrām V. His death is said in one tradition to have occurred during a hunt; according to another version, he died a natural death (summer of 438).


The main Sasanian-based account is given by Ṭabarī, tr. Nöldeke, pp. 85-112.

See also Dīnavarī, pp. 53ff.; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, VII, pp. 266ff.; Nehāyat al-erab apud E.G. Browne, JRAS, 1900, pp. 222ff.; Masʿūdī, Morūj II, pp. 157ff., 191; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 553ff.

For chronology see Nöldeke, op. cit., pp. 419ff. Concerning Bahrām’s love for music and the role of the minstrels see M. Boyce, “The Parthian gōsān and Iranian Minstrel Tradition,” JRAS, 1957, pp. 11, 30f.

Armenian, Syriac, and Byzantine references to Bahrām are listed in Justi, Namenbuch, p. 362 no. 14, and used by Nöldeke in his notes on Ṭabarī. Bahrām’s relations with the Christians are discussed by J. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse, Paris, 1904, pp. 117ff.

Professor Shapour Shahbazi: Amazons

The posting below highlights the late Professor Shapour Shahbazi’s discussion of Amazon female warriors which was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1989.


AMAZONS, designation of a fabulous race of female warriors in Greek beliefs, writings, and art, fancifully explained as a-mazos (breastless or full-breasted, see Toepfer, in Pauly-Wissowa I/2, cols. 1765f.). Its derivation from Old Iranian *maz- (combat), producing a folkname *ha-mazan “warrior” (J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, Bern, I, p. 1959) is also disputed (M. Mayrhofer, “Das angebliche iranische Etyman des Amazonen-Namens,” Studi linguistici in onore di Vittore Pisani, II, Brescia, 1969, pp. 66l-66). The Greeks placed the Amazons on the edge of the world they knew: first, on the Thermodon in northeast Asia Minor and later on the Tanais; and on the Caucasus or even on the Jaxartes as geographical explorations pushed “the East” further (Toepfer, ibid., cols. 1755f.). Thrace (Virgil Aeneid 2.659f.) and Libya (Diodorus 3.53f.) were also claimed as their habitat. Originally, they were associated with Asia Minor, where many cities (Myrine, Cyme and Ephesus) were alleged as their foundations (Diodorus ibid.; Strabo 12.3, 21; Tacitus Annals 3.61.2), and they were made the children of Harmonia—a nymph—and Ares, the clan god to whom they sacrificed white horses. Artemis was another of their chief deities (Toepfer, op. cit., cols 1764f.). Later, however, they were connected with the Scythians as the ancestors of the Sauromatae (Herodotus 4.110-17) or the wives of Asia Minor Scythians whom their neighbors had vanquished (Justin 2.4).

female-scythian-warriorA reconstruction by Cernenko and Gorelik of the north-Iranian Saka or Scythians in battle (Cernenko & Gorelik, 1989, Plate F). The ancient Iranians (those in ancient Persia and the ones in ancient Eastern Europe) often had women warriors and chieftains, a practice not unlike those of the contemporary ancient Celts in ancient Central and Western Europe. What is also notable is the costume of the Iranian female warrior – this type of dress continues to appear in parts of Luristan in Western Iran (for more on this topic see – Fezana article on Ancient Iranian Women).

The Massagatae Scythians who defeated and killed Cyrus the Great east of the Caspian Sea were said to be ruled by an Amazon-like queen (Herodotus I, 20 s f.), and it was on the Jaxartes that an Amazon queen came to Alexander’s camp with 300 female warriors to beget children from him and his Macedonian notables (Arrian Anabasis 4.15, 4, 7.13, 4; Curtius 6.5, 24f.; Plutarch Alexander 46). Dionysus also conquered them on his Eastern campaign, a modification, it is claimed, of Alexander stories (W. R. Halliday, The Greek Questions of Plutarch, Oxford, 1928, p. 210f.).

Amazon-3-AchaemenidsA reconstruction of a female Achaemenid cavalry unit by Shapur Suren-Pahlav.

The Amazon’s particular importance is due to their popularity in art from the 7th Century B.C. onward. They are represented in vase paintings and sculptured reliefs in various mythical episodes, against Achilles, Heracles, Theseus and Bellerphone, particularly after the Persian invasion of Greece. For in the mythical invasions of Attica by the Amazons and the defuse of Theseus, implications of the Persian expedition and its fate were perfectly evident. This was highlighted by the oriental background or connections of the Amazons, evidenced especially in their costume—short tunic, Iranian trousers, often variegated and elaborately patterned, and pointed hat with cheek flaps and long neck-guard—and their equipment; the bow, the javelin and the light, crescent-shaped shield, also recalled Oriental arms, as can be seen from such Graeco-Persian monuments as the Heroon of Gjölbaschi, the Nereid Monuments, and the Alexander Sarcophagus (A. Klügmann, Die Amazonen in der attischen Literature und Kunst, Stuttgart, 1875; Pauly-Wissowa, I/2, cols. 1761-89; E. Bielefeld, Amazonomachia: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Motivwanderung in der antiken Kunst, Halle, 1951; D. Bothmer, Amazons in Greek Art, Oxford, 1957; A. Sh. Shahbazi, The Irano-Lycian Monuments, Tehran, 1975, p. 82).

Gun-totting-Iranian-women-MalayerIranian women from Malayer (near Hamedan in the northwest) engaged in target practice in the Eznab area of Malayer city limits in the late 1950s.  The association between weapons and women is nothing new in Iran; Roman references for example note of Iranian women armed as regular troops in the armies of the Sassanians (224-651 AD).

The Amazons have also found their way into Persian literature and romances through the Alexander-romance of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (The History of Alexander the Great: being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes, ed. and tr. E. A. W. Budge, Cambridge, 1889, pp. 127f.).

Old-Persian Cuneiform Inscription of Kharg Island

The reports below regarding the Old-Persian Cuneiform Inscription of Kharg Island was originally posted in CAIS on December 9, 2007.

Rasool Bashash (Faculty Member, Linguistics, Inscriptions, and Texts Research Center, Research Institute to the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization) reported in CAIS (December 9, 2007) that the first person who informed the Linguistics, Inscriptions, and Texts Research Center (LITRC) about the appearance of this inscription was revered Prof. Dr. Sarfaraz, whom we should profoundly appreciate for his opportune attention.

Kharg_Inscription2Kharq cuneiform inscription (Source: CAIS & Cultural Heritage New Agency).

In mid-November 2007, Bashash and Sarfaraz along with various other officials and archaeologists arrived at Kharq Island. Bashash gathered all the necessary information and needed provisions and returned to Tehran, to read and decode the inscription.

The inscription is carved on a coral rock in Old Persian semi-syllabic cuneiform signs. Despite the usually well-ordered regular system of Achaemenid inscriptions, this specimen is in an unusual order written in five lines. The first three lines are separated with a space of 8cm from the second two lines which are very awkwardly engraved.

However, the cuneiform signs of the syllables have been very well and correctly engraved. Excepting the aforementioned peculiarities, there are two other engraved signs between the text. One is a three-angled crown-looking sign at the beginning of the third line, and the other is a curved scratched line between the third and fourth lines which is proceeded in below coming paragraphs.

The below coning tentative decoding of the inscription was carried out through referring to almost all Persian rock and artifact inscriptions, while studying, at the same time, the other contemporary and coincidental Elamite and also some Avestan, the Old Persian’s closest cognate language texts.

Transliteration Transcription

1 a ha .ha

2 sa a na . .a a . .. 

3  za ha ma i vazahamai   

4 ba ha na ma . bahanama 

5 xa a x.

Kharg_OP_Inscription5Kharq cuneiform inscription (Source: CAIS & Cultural Heritage New Agency).


The not irrigated land was (became) happy (with) my bringing out (water). Bahana  wells

Kharg_OP_Inscription6Kharq cuneiform inscription (Source: CAIS & Cultural Heritage New Agency).


The only one word in the first line is .ha from the radical .ah1, “to be, to become, …”, impf. 3rd sg, “was, became”.

The second line contains two words. One is read as sa a na > This word was not found in any of the Old Persian cuneiform texts, but in Achaemenid Elamite, either sa-a-in or sa,-in and sa-a-na (PF572:7f;9500:10) are attested and are translated as “not irrigated land”, which serve as qualification of grain, in contrast to HAL.A, meaning “place (of) water”, or “irrigated land”. The second word reads as .. from the ..y. is an adjective meaning “happy, glad”.

The third line, as mentioned, begins with a fallen three-angled crown-looking engraved shape. Actually, it shouldn’t be a real crown, but I prefer to discern it a corruption of the cuneiform sign for the syllable va, and later manipulated into the shape of a crown. Therefore, I suggest a transliteration of the corrupted and broken third line as va za ha ma i > vazahamai, a noun with enclitic first person possessive pronoun: vazah n. from the verb .vaz, meaning “to bring, to offer, to flow”. Vazahamai; “my offer, my flow”.

The fourth line can either be read as the name of a person, transliterated as ba ha na > bahana, with the accusative (-ma), or it can be matched with an Elamite word read as pa ha nu, meaning “prince”.

The last line consists of one word transliterated as xa a > x., which is a noun plural (NP), nominative and accusative of substantive xan, meaning “wells, quells”.